He's back and he's bigger, badder, and more whacked in the head than before. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is the direct sequel to 2001 blockbuster hit Max Payne. With that being said I highly recommend anyone thinking about picking this one up should play the original first. While there is a brief recap of what happened in the original game you really can't get the full experience of the sequel without actually playing the first one. The writer and cast of Max Payne are all back and anyone who enjoyed the first title is sure to feel right at home here.
Story is the name of the game with Max Payne and it might be more apt to call it an interactive graphic novel than a game. The story is so rich an involved you will probably want to play through the game twice just to make sure you get it all. Blink and you may miss some crucial piece of info. It all unfolds through a narrated graphic novel and in game cutscenes. The setting for this drama is the seedy underbelly of NYC. The games atmosphere is moody and dark, the perfect recipe for mayhem. The funhouse portion of the game is particularly gripping and lends me to believe the Max Payne team could make an incredible Survival-Horror game. It's not all talk and atmosphere though, there's still plenty of gun totting, bullet dodging, Matrix style action to slake your thirst for violence.
Bullet time is back, of course, but a few changes have been put in place since our last encounter with Max. Bullet dodging is now a separate move from bullet time. That means you can dive in slow motion in any direction without using up the bullet time meter. Once on the ground you can remain prone and continue firing as well. Reloading in bullet time has also undergone some changes. You will reload much faster now and as a bonus there is a cool John Woo style reload animation to accompany it. In addition to these changes, your movement speed is increased during bullet time. Originally you moved at the same speed as the enemies and only your aim speed was increased. No longer, now you move slightly faster than the enemies and as you off them in bullet time you will begin to move even faster. Eventually you will get to a point where you can dodge mid and long range fire fairly easily. The changes may seem like they have made the game a little too easy and in some ways they have. In your first run through of the game you will have to play on the default difficulty which is pretty easy. You will definitely want to play through it again on one of the higher difficulty settings that are unlocked after initially beating the game to really test your skills. Once you bump up the difficulty you will really start to appreciate the new bullet system.
The armament remains largely the same from the first title with a few notable differences. Among the plethora of weapons available including AK-47's, Ingrams, Desert Eagle's, Dragunov, shotguns, and assorted automatic weapons comes the addition of the MP5. This compact automatic weapon has a high rate of fire and best of all a scope for long distance accuracy. This little baby is welcome addition to the arsenal. The MP5 isn't the only change this go round. Gone is the grenade launcher of yore, a sad fact for sure. Not all is lost as there are plenty of standard grenades to go around. With the addition of the Havok physics engine you're sure to get plenty of satisfaction watching enemies dead torso's flinging about as a result of your precisely placed grenade. The use of the Havok engine is probably the greatest improvement from the first game. Almost every object is affected by the engine, including bodies, so the game feels much more realistic. Seeing bodies fly into shelves, knocking them over and spilling their contents around the room is a sight to behold. If you get of a particularly impressive shot the camera will zoom in on the flying torso and pan around giving the game a truly cinematic feel.
Once you've finished the game there are a few modes that are unlocked to lengthen the experience. These modes are practically necessary as the game is incredibly short. After your first run through you will unlock Hard Boiled mode. This is the same story mode as the first run though, but the enemies are all at the highest difficulty setting. After beating this mode you will unlock the most difficult setting Dead on Arrival. All of the enemies are at the hardest setting and the number of saves per level is limited. New York Minute also makes a reappearance. In NYM a timer tracks your progression through the levels. Killing enemies will rewind the timer slightly and bullet time will slow it down. The final mode, new to Max Payne 2, is Dead Man Walking. This mode pits you against an ever increasing number of enemies as you fight against time. The longer you stay alive the higher your score. These last two modes would have been perfect for an online ranking system. Competing against yourself can get old pretty fast. These extra modes are nice bonuses, but for most these modes will go largely untouched.
One of the greatest improvements in Max Payne 2 is the graphics. What a difference two years make. The textures are all greatly improved, most noticeably in the character models. In some of the close up shot you will notice some slight blockyness but for the most part the characters look great. The clothing has wrinkles and folds and the skin textures are very realistic. There are a fair number of facial animations for each character that convey a great deal of emotion. The fire effects are also very impressive especially coming from the barrel of a gun in bullet time. Take a look at any screenshot of Max firing and you will instantly see how great the fire effects are. The art from the cutscenes is top notch and very stylized. It fits the dark tone of the story superbly and draws you into Max's world.
The sound in Max Payne 2 is equally involving. All of the gun sounds are dead on. Even more impressive are the effects that bullet time will have on the sound effects. Individual bullet casings can be heard as they splash to the floor. Background noises like radio, TV's, and street noises slow down along with the action. This effect has great impact on the action of the game. It really makes you feel like you are in a Hollywood action movie.
Speaking of Hollywood the voice acting is superb. They couldn't have gotten a better actor to portray Max. The supporting cast also does a fantastic job. From Mona to Bravura even the minimal characters do there job flawlessly. There are tons of situations where you will overhear conversation from enemies, clips on the radio, or the TV. These may seem like inane background noises, but there are some memorable moments from the conversations and they help make you feel part of a bigger world. This title is a perfect example of how professional actors can improve the overall quality of a game. The music, while minimal is quantity, is very atmospheric and greatly improves some of the dramatic moments of the game.
All in all Max Payne 2 is a fantastic game that falls short of perfection because of its length. Great story, action, graphics, and sound make this a game to remember, but coming in at less than 7 hours of gameplay really hurts the value. The added gameplay modes will give you a little more play time, but most people will quickly lose interest in these. I still recommend that everyone give this game a try, but a rental might be the preferred avenue for play. In the tone of one John Henson Note to Remedy and Take-Two: it is hard to justify 50 dollars for only 7 hours of play; double play time immediately!
Score : 8.5/10
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